Doom 3 (PC) review
"How scary is Doom 3? Scary enough to place you in a pitch-black room with five demons who want to maul your brains out, and scary enough to keep you from holding your gun and flashlight at the same time. Given the abundance of exploding air vents in Mars City, is there seriously no duct tape one can use to attach his flashlight to his assault rifle? Or, if nothing else, is there no way to hold the flashlight and your damn pistol at the same time? The pistol is a one-handed weapon, and I can see that my character’s left arm functions just fine, so what’s the problem? You know, the old Resident Evil games employed tank-like controls to increase the tension of enemy encounters; it was a survival horror trick. But then Capcom matured and made Resident Evil 4, which proved it’s possible to scare players without physically handicapping the main character. Doom 3 doesn’t even technically qualify as a survival horror game and it’s preoccupied with pulling rubbish like this."
It’s normal for a game to lose some of its appeal the second time you play it, but a recent replay of Doom 3 (or ATTEMPT to replay it) proved the game an exceptional case. Let’s get one thing straight here: I NEVER enjoyed Doom 3. Ever. Even on my initial play-through, the hilarious ineptitude of the enemy AI and level design made the experience painful enough. But at least I was scared, scared enough to promise myself that I’d only play the game at night with the lights turned out, just to amplify the mood. Upon replaying it, the element of surprise was gone, and let’s face it – surprise was all this game had going for it in the first place. Removing that only makes you truly realize how lame Doom 3 is in its most basic form.
Doom 3 is frightening, but never in the tense, atmospheric way that FPSs like Half-Life and System Shock were. It takes talent to pull that kind of thing off, and Doom 3’s attempts to convey a believable survival horror atmosphere are actually pretty laughable. We get all of the assembly line survival horror tricks we’ve seen in a million other games before: The flickering lights, the sputtering sparks, the tiles flying off the walls and ceiling. I can’t fault ID Software for copying the successes of other (better) games, but I can fault them for writing BURN on a wall in blood and expecting us to wet our pants. I can also shake my head in distaste when I hear the obligatory “evil cackle” of an unseen figure – Satan, I guess? – and wonder what this man could possibly find amusing. I would understand if he found joy in watching his minions tear me to pieces from his office in hell, but he’d usually laugh when nothing was actually happening on-screen. So why was he laughing, then? You see, rather than frighten me, this kind of thing has me questioning the motives of characters who do not actually exist.
Anyway, no, Doom 3’s idea of scary is to hide a demon behind an automatic door and have him jump in your face – accompanied by a screech – when you open it. This kind of jump-in-your-seat shock isn’t hard to pull off. You must simply present something that the player isn’t expecting, and do so loudly. Whenever I got the behind-the-automatic-door surprise imp attack, for example, there would always be that one brief moment where I’d think to myself, “Holy crap! That scared the piss out of me!” And then I’d think: “Hey, wait. I just took some damage for that. No fair! How was I supposed to avoid that? How did he even know I was coming anyway? What, did he just wait there that whole time, hoping for the opportunity to get a cheap shot on some wandering soldier? Doesn’t he have anything else to do?” That’s Doom 3: Scoring cheap, split-second shocks at the expense of the player.
How scary is Doom 3? Scary enough to place you in a pitch-black room with five demons who want to maul your brains out, and scary enough to keep you from holding your gun and flashlight at the same time. Given the abundance of exploding air vents in Mars City, is there seriously no duct tape one can use to attach his flashlight to his assault rifle? Or, if nothing else, is there no way to hold the flashlight and your damn pistol at the same time? The pistol is a one-handed weapon, and I can see that my character’s left arm functions just fine, so what’s the problem? You know, the old Resident Evil games employed tank-like controls to increase the tension of enemy encounters; it was a survival horror trick. But then Capcom matured and made Resident Evil 4, which proved it’s possible to scare players without physically handicapping the main character. Doom 3 doesn’t even technically qualify as a survival horror game and it’s preoccupied with pulling rubbish like this.
Being a first-person SHOOTER, Doom 3’s primary focus should be in allowing its player to shoot stuff, and unsurprisingly, it fails at that, too. Almost out of necessity, there are legions of zombies flooding Mars City. They’re represented by about three different character models (does Mars City really have so many bald, fat guys?), and look and act, well, like zombies, hiding in dark places, moaning, moseying around until given the opportunity to munch on the flesh of some unsuspecting passerby who has not yet been zombified himself. (Why don’t zombies eat each other? This question has haunted me for ages.) Zombies are boring video game enemies, and they’re usually the mark of lazy game development since they’re expected to be slow and dumb. They work okay in survival horror games, but as much as Doom 3 would love to be a survival horror game, it isn’t. It’s a shooter, and I demand something interesting to shoot.
But then the guys at ID Software took it a step further, assuring that nearly every enemy in the game has that zombie mindset, only varying in appearance, speed, and firepower. Thus, Doom 3 plays out as a freakshow of sorts, displaying every sick, twisted idea the development team had of what hell’s army could look like. Here's a skeleton with twin rocket launchers on his shoulders! Here's a soldier with a tentacle coming out of his arm! Here's a demon with a chainsaw! Here's a BURNING SKULL! Despite looking different, each and every foe found in Mars City functions with the thinking skills of their zombie brethren: (a) Face the player, (b) walk forward, (c) make an intimidating noise, and then (d) attack! The lone exception are the imps, who have the magical ability to teleport to places you’ve already been – which is cheap, though at this point, cheapness isn’t something I’d put past this game. Even the possessed military troops, whom you’d think would exercise some form of strategy in taking you down, just sort of stand there like living, breathing turrets.
It’s not fun to defeat enemies like these, because it takes no brainpower. You’re never satisfied for outsmarting them, because you don’t outsmart them. You simply overpower them using the weapons the game was kind enough to lend you.
Level design follows the same boring, thoughtless suit, managing to turn something as potentially fascinating as a developing colony on Mars into “just another” space-horror setting. Maybe it’s the bland, all-metal portrayal of the city itself – did the architects of Mars City anticipate an outbreak of hell’s minions, and design the place accordingly to look as creepy as possible? – or maybe it’s the shooting gallery-style structure that demands nothing more thought-provoking than “shoot everything, then walk through the next door.” The only instance in which Doom 3 requires any sort of advanced thinking is during an ill-conceived monorail sequence that comes off as a half-assed attempt to ape Half-Life’s “On a Rail” level – which may have been a bad idea altogether, since one of our own staff members has admitted to never finishing Half-Life thanks to that particular chapter. But even Half-Life has the advantage of pitting you against interesting enemies. Doom 3 (which, I might add, is six years younger) can’t even manage that.
Only during the finale, when the player descends to the depths of hell, do the production values really skyrocket enough to (momentarily) distract me from the utter incompetence of the design itself. But you know what? Production is not Doom 3’s problem. Even four years later, the lighting effects, character models and attention to detail are above and beyond. Sound design actually contributes to the game’s attempts at conveying a survival horror atmosphere, rather than detracting from it. Your little data storage device is loaded with voice recordings and e-mails to advance the story, and to explain why there are chainsaws on a planet with no trees. (Hey, they tried.) Production is through the roof on this one. I suggest the artists of ID Software pursue work on a different team, where their obvious expertise can be matched with game design that doesn’t totally suck.
If you enjoyed this Doom 3 review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!